At the end of Chapter 20, the writer of this Gospel makes his purpose clear, “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).
Today, Sunday November 22, we ask the question for the last time:
Does John’s Gospel say that Jesus is God?
I begin today, not with questions, but by reading two of the “unofficial” I Am statements: when Jesus tells the soldiers who have come for him, “I am he;” and when he answers his questioners, “Before Abraham was, I Am.”
AT THE HEART OF JOHN’S PORTRAYAL OF JESUS IS THE FACT THAT JESUS USES THE WORD(S) BY WHICH YAHWEH IDENTIFIES HIMSELF TO MOSES.
IT IS THE SIMPLE SHATTERING STATEMENT, “I AM.”
“God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you”” (Exodus 3:14).
In John’s Gospel, Jesus has become “I AM.”
Like much in the highly structured Gospel of John, the I Am statements come as a set of seven.
The bread of life (6:35) “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry. . .’”
The light of the world (8:12) “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”
The gate for the sheep (10:7) “‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. . .and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. . .Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. . .I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.’”
The good shepherd (10:11) “‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. . .I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep’”
The resurrection and the life (11:25) “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die’”
The way, the truth, and the life (14:6) “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’ Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’”
The true vine (15:1) “‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower . He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. . .Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit. . .’”
I read without interruption and without discussion: I am the bread, the light, the way, the truth, the resurrection, the life, the gate, the shepherd, the vine.
Our priest asks: why does Jesus identify himself as these particular things, what does this identity tell us about Jesus? About what is offered here? What does this identity mean to me?
My response is immediate–God is in these basic elements of the material world, in this life we live.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, one of the oddest of Jesuits, and sometimes one of my favorites, wrote,
“Throughout my whole life, during every minute of it, the world has been gradually lighting up and blazing before my eyes until it has come to surround me, entirely lit up from within.”
Because there is a special Thanksgiving service following Sunday School today, our numbers are down. In fact, the group consists of possibly six or seven women, including me. And our discussion is different; there are more declarations of basic Christian faith, unrelated to questions about John’s depiction of Jesus. The new rector says that not only John, but all the Gospels, in some way say that Jesus is God.
I find myself up against an old question, though unspoken here: doesn’t all this questioning and digging weaken your faith? When will you stop asking questions and just believe?
I will stop asking questions when there’s no breath left in me. For me, seeking God is finding God. It is in the bold asking that we meet the Divine. Witness Jacob; witness Job; Moses, Sarah, Rebekkah, Eve, Magdalene at the open tomb, even the young girl, Mary.
C.S. Lewis, that reluctant convert to Christianity, writes in Surprised by Joy,
“In a sense the central story of my life. . .is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy. . .”
I pose a final question.
Do you like John’s Jesus?
And from the rector, “John’s Gospel has always been troubling to me,” but she’s sure in time she will “come to it.”
And even now, she tells us that she can’t read the Prologue without crying:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I am not so sure that I will “come to it.” And I often weep on reading beautiful poetry.
Another Episcopal priest I know asked me, “What if Jesus is really like that?” And after a couple of minutes’ thought, he added, “I think Luke and I will go in the other room to talk.”
I think I prefer Luke’s Jesus who, we read in Acts, just “went about doing good” (10:38)